I was not able to find the actual trailer for this movie.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
Director: Spike Lee
Okay, a little back story about this documentary and my ties to New Orleans…
Both my mother and father were born and raised in New Orleans and each can trace their New Orleans roots for generations. Even the Filipino ancestors that I have, came straight off the boat and into the French Quarter boarding house that my mother’s family had on Royal Street. Chances are, the New Orleans you know and the New Orleans I know are two totally different cities. My alma mater was a mere 5.5 hours from The Big Easy, and weekend road trips to party-on were easily hatched on the fly by many a UM campus co-ed. Except for me. When you have that much family in New Orleans, you tend to not want to let your freak flag fly through the Vieux Carre. I have way too many cousins, aunts and uncles that I could run into. And, while my Grandmother’s door was always open to me and friends for the mardi gras parade that ran past her house, or Sunday dinner, for me New Orleans was just not the get away it was to most of my non-cajun friends.
So, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my family and I were on our way to San Destin, FLA for vacation. Much of that was spent glued to the TV watching the news document the epic destruction. We were also glued to the phone tracking the whereabouts of all those cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents that left the city. My grandfather was in a nursing home at the time. He was evacuated to Baton Rouge, but was really too frail to be moved. He got sick and passed away 2 months later. His funeral was the last time I was in New Orleans after the hurricane. It was heartbreaking to see the city I considered my home away from home be destroyed. I know first hand New Orleans before Katrina was rife with issues. Racial tension, corrupt government, very high crime rates. But really the only thing that the hurricane washed away was a deep culture that existed in the lower income neighborhoods. Family lineages dating to the days of slavery, generations of musicians doing what their daddy and grandaddy did. New Orleans cuisines and traditions like red beans on Mondays and fish on Fridays. All that was born in the parts of New Orleans that were not rich. Rebuilding may be bringing some good change. But a lot of the support for those lower income families is now gone (short of things like Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Project). Charity Hospital, affordable rents. I have been too afraid of the crime post Katrina to even want to go back (My grandmother was a court reported for the criminal court of New Orleans, and I have heard some horrific stories).
So when Spike Lee made When The Levees Broke, I found it to be a lovely account of how it all went down. Beautifully shot, informative, awesome music. He seemed to have left no stone unturned, no interview unheard. And while clocking in at 4 hours long(it was edited to into two 2hr segments that aired on HBO in 2006), it managed to hold me captive for every minute. Maybe its a personal thing for me, but I think Spike Lee actually captured a sense of real life in New Orleans. Not the often incorrect Southerner so misportraited in the movies(dear god, the accents are never right. True New Orleans accents sound like a Brooklyn accent with a Southern drawl). Not the debaucherous Bourbon Street New Orleans that my college friends knew. I mean the personality and life of the city I remember as someone related to generations of it’s citizens. I totally recommend this movie. Yeah, it’s personal. But I think Spike Lee nailed it beautifully.
If you like this movie I also recommend Spike Lee’s follow up on the rebuilding of New Orleans, God Willing And The Creeks Don’t Rise. Just as awesome. I also recommend 4 Little Girls, Lee’s documentary about the civil right’s movement and Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963. Okay yes, I am from Birmingham, so this story also has personal ties for me as well. But, Spike Lee does a great job with these documentaries. Sit through the 4hrs it is worth every minute.